Frank Zappa’s ‘200 Motels’ Soundtrack Gets a 6-CD Upgrade

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In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the music from 200 Motels, the surrealistic film created by Frank Zappa, will be the subject of a six-CD boxed set, due from Zappa Records, UMe and MGM on Nov. 19, 2021. The Super Deluxe soundtrack is fully authorized by the Zappa Trust and produced by Ahmet Zappa and Zappa Vaultmeister Joe Travers. The 50th Anniversary Edition brings together the original soundtrack, newly remastered by Bernie Grundman, along with unreleased and rare material unearthed from FZ’s vault, including original demos, studio outtakes, work mixes, interviews and movie ads, along with newly discovered dialog reels, revealing an early audio edit of the film. Also included is a wealth of never-before-heard audio documentary material surrounding the project.

Discs 1 and 2 feature the remastered soundtrack with the second half of the second disc consisting of demos and demo outtakes; two of the many highlights from these sessions include unreleased alternate mixes and alternate takes of the Chunga’s Revenge tunes, “Road Ladies” and “Tell Me You Love Me.” Discs 3 and 4 contain the “Dialog Protection Reels,” which reveal an early version of the movie, while Discs 5 and 6 present unreleased outtakes, alternates and historical nuggets sequenced in the order of the original shooting script, the way Zappa originally envisioned before he ran into time and budget constraints. These discs reveal Zappa’s original intent for the film for the first time.

Listen to the “Mystery Roach” (Dialog Protection Reel)

Released on October 4, 1971, 200 Motels is described in a Sept. 24 press release as “a miraculous feat, a cinematic collision of the venerated musician and composer’s kaleidoscopic musical and visual worlds that brought together Zappa and his band, the Mothers, Ringo Starr as Zappa—as “a large dwarf”—Keith Moon as a perverted nun, Pamela Des Barres in her acting debut, noted thespian Theodore Bikel, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and an incredible assortment of characters (both on screen and off) for a ‘surrealistic documentary’ about the bizarre life of a touring musician.”

Frank Zappa in 200 Motels (Photo: © 1971 Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc.; used with permission)

The film, written by Zappa and co-directed by him and Tony Palmer, “mixed together irreverent comedic skits, madcap satire, eye-popping animation and virtuosic on-screen musical performances from both the Mothers and the RPO for a fascinating and freewheeling multimedia extravaganza,” says the announcement. Shot in just 10 days with a budget of around $650,000 from distributor United Artists, 200 Motels was one of the first movies to be filmed entirely on videotape. Zappa and crew “pushed the envelope of the burgeoning new medium’s possibilities, mostly notably through its use of spectacular—and at the time—state-of-the-art visual effects.”

Related: What else was happening in rock music in 1971?

Described by Zappa as “at once a reportage of real events and an extrapolation of them… other elements include ‘conceptual by-products’ of the extrapolated ‘real event’…In some ways the contents of the film are autobiographical,”

Ringo Starr as Frank Zappa in 200 Motels

The music, and its corresponding soundtrack, was equally diverse, a “wild pastiche of avant-garde rock and orchestral compositions interspersed with dialog from the film,” says the release. Up until that time, compositions like the finale piece, “Strictly Genteel,” were some of the most ambitious material ever written and recorded by Zappa. The band in the film and on the soundtrack consisted of Frank Zappa (guitar and bass), Mark Volman (vocals and special material), Howard Kaylan (vocals and special material), Ian Underwood (keyboards and winds), Aynsley Dunbar (drums), George Duke (keyboards and trombone), Martin Lickert (bass), Jimmy Carl Black (vocals) and Ruth Underwood (orchestra drum set), plus  the aforementioned Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The six-disc set will be housed in a 64-page hardcover book in a 12” x 12” slipcase. The packaging replicates the original booklet updated with new liner notes from Pamela Des Barres, Ruth Underwood and Joe Travers, as well as Patrick Pending’s essay from the 1997 reissue, and motion picture artwork, stills and images, from the film and its making, many which have never been seen before. This release will also include a custom “200 Motels” keychain and Do-Not-Disturb motel door hanger and a full-size replica of the original movie poster. Years in the making, all the audio was meticulously identified and transferred over several years as Travers dug through the vault to create a new high resolution 96K/24B digital patchwork stereo master from the original analog tapes. The vault material was mastered by John Polito in 2021.

The remastered 200 Motels soundtrack will also be reissued on vinyl as a 2-LP pressed on 180-gram black vinyl. The soundtrack will also be released on 2-CD and all formats will include a smaller version of the movie poster.

Watch the original 1971 trailer for 200 Motels

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